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So How do You Choose a Mentor?

Mentorship is good. I think we can all agree on that. But... How do you find one?

One of the aspects of the MFA Boston Emerging Artist Fellowship that I love and think I will get the most benefit from is the opportunity to work with a mentor through out the fellowship. A mentor is someone who helps guide you as a trusted and experienced adviser. Mentors are like coaches in your corner encouraging and pushing you to always do better. It is an important relationship in any field, including the art world. Those pesky questions and doubts that most if not all emerging artists have can be worked through and answered by a mentor who has perhaps already found the answers and solutions to the problems a newer, less seasoned artist may have.

The contact from the MFA Emerging Artist Fellowship emailed me a list of artists, one of which would potentially be my adviser. I was told pick two to set-up an initial meeting. I was now facing the dilemma of who to choose. What would I base my choices on? The first thing I did was google the names of the artists on the list. I was looking for someone who worked rather figuratively and who's work I could relate to or that was similar to my own. As a figurative painter I wanted to make sure I didn't choose someone who painted primarily abstract. I'm sure those abstract artist are kind generous people (proven by the fact that they are willing to mentor someone they've never met before), but I wanted to be able to relate artistically to my mentor, to make sure we speak the same or similar artistic language.

I made my choice and met with an artist that I had selected from the list. She was wonderful. We had a lot in common. She too was an art teacher, recently retired and striving to work as a full-time artist. Her paintings intrigued me. She had some advice for me, which I appreciated and actually used to make my work better. But I didn't choose her, because I am going with someone I already know somewhat and have a personal connection with. I wish I could have chosen both!

I think it is best to work with someone you have a connection with, as this is someone who will hopefully be in your life for a long time. My situation is different than most, as I was "given" a mentor and most people have to go in search for themselves. In my opinion the best thing to do if you are looking for a mentor on your own is to make a list of people who do what you do or what you would like to do and ask one of them if they would meet with you for coffee or lunch. If they are willing and the initial meeting goes well then invite them out again. Build a relationship first before asking someone to take you on as a mentor. Most people will be flattered that you asked, but it is a big responsibility, so don't get upset if they say no. They just may not have the time at the moment. Go back to your list and ask another person out to coffee and build a relationship with them. Worst case scenario you may not have a mentor right away, but you are building meaningful relationships with people you admire and that is a win win.

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